Tuesday, February 22, 2005

New London Calling

The Supreme Court today hears arguments in Kelo vs. New London and if there is any justice in the world New London will get their asses handed to them. From the Pittsburgh Trib-Review, Stop Chainsawing The Constitution:

Across America, government and big business are teaming up to condemn people's homes and replace them with shopping centers and megastores such as Costco, Ikea and Home Depot. In fact, from just 1998 to 2003, there were 10,000 reported cases of cities and states condemning or threatening to condemn homes and businesses to make way for private companies to expand.

Government's power to take property against the owner's will is called eminent domain; it is the subject of a case the U.S. Supreme Court will hear today. In Kelo v. New London, the court will consider whether the Constitution places any limits on eminent domain.

The Fifth Amendment says that private property may be taken only for "public use," which in the past meant highways or government buildings. But in Kelo, a Connecticut town decided to "revitalize" the community by taking several properties and replacing them with a hotel, a health club and a marina to accompany a new research facility for the Pfizer pharmaceutical company.

Health clubs and corporate research are private uses, not public uses. But the city argues that "revitalization" would increase tax revenue and "create jobs." And a public benefit, the city says, is all the Constitution requires.

If there were ever an argument that deserves to go down to ignominious defeat it is the argument that allows governments to use eminent domain to take property at will from one (poorer) private citizen and give it to another (wealthier) citizen. If such practices are allowed then it can never truly be said that anyone "owns" their homes. In reality you would be paying for the opportunity to occupy them at the government's indulgence.

The idea that the government can declare an area "blighted" when it doesn't maximize potential tax revenues stands the entire idea of American democracy on its head. In such a view the government doesn't exist to serve the needs of the people. Instead the people exist in order to provide revenue streams for the government.

If someone is going to take away my home that I might have spent 30+ years working for, there better be a real public interest involved, such as building a courthouse or an inter-state highway. It better not be taken so some fat rich woman has a place to do Pilates.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly. This issue has pissed me off since my days in Urbana. The city wanted to build a hotel/conference center on University Blvd, and was to going to use eminent domain to force Dunbar cycles (I think that what the bike shop was called) to sell at below market (they rightly were holding out for a higher price). The city ultimately ended up flinching, but I remember bitching about this to the law and politics professor there ("you I don't know") and he didn't have any problem with the city's actions. And yet I believe he considered himself a conservative Republican.

The postscript to this is that they built a hotel (don't know if it was the original plan) across the street on University avenue and tore down the house I lived in one year (with a professor investigator, no less) to do so.